Concacaf's men's Olympic qualifying tournament officially has a home, with the confederation confirming Thursday that it will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, from March 18-30.
The competition was postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the groups will remain the same as those drawn in January 2020, with the USA paired with Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic in Group A. Honduras, Canada, El Salvador and Haiti are in Group B.
The top two finishers in each group advance to the semifinals, where the two winners will secure Concacaf's berths in the Olympics. The women's qualifying tournament was completed last January and February, with the USA and Canada securing the region's two berths.
The U.S. had traveled to Guadalajara last year prior to the tournament being called off. With the U.S. men having failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympic stages, there's a strong emphasis on punching a ticket to Tokyo, something that U.S. manager Jason Kreis stressed last March while in Mexico and preparing for what he thought would be the tournament opener.
“I think it's incredibly important. And it's not really about what I think to be honest. What's really important is what U.S. Soccer thinks, and U.S. Soccer thinks it's very important for us to qualify for this Olympics. They have looked at these past couple of cycles and look at that as a failure. So, it's something that we want to correct, and we want to correct it together. I'm really pleased about that and really, really look at this as a tremendous opportunity. I think that this is a huge opportunity that stands in front of us and it's a chance for us to have positive rhetoric around something on the men's side of U.S. Soccer right now. So, we're looking at this as an awesome experience and an awesome opportunity and we hope that we can really have a positive performance here and qualify for the Olympics.”
The schedule of matches was not revealed Thursday, but if the order remains the same as last year's initial plan, then the U.S. will open vs. Costa Rica before facing the Dominican Republic in the second group match and closing vs. Mexico. The host venues will be Estadio Jalisco and Estadio Akron, while matches will be televised in the USA on Fox Sports and TUDN.
What also remains to be seen for the U.S. is which players will be released by their clubs. The U.S. under-23-eligible pool is quite strong given the emergence of Americans at top clubs in Europe, but since clubs are not required to release players for youth competitions, there's no expectation that the top eligible players will be available. That does not mean that no Europe-based players will participate, and it won't be for a lack of trying from Kreis and U.S. men's national team general manager Brian McBride.
“I don’t think that we’ll make some requests that we know for sure we’re going to get noes on,” Kreis said this week from the only training camp he'll have before qualifying begins. “But anybody that falls into what we think would be the 10 to 15% chance maybe category, we’re going to make those phone calls.”
A largely MLS-based squad is expected to be called upon, with the pool of eligible players growing by one this week following Orlando City midfielder Andres Perea having his one-time allegiance switch from Colombia approved by FIFA.